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David Kidman of Fatea

reviews Old Virginia by Rattle on the Stovepipe

There’s been no personnel change for this trio since recording 2010’s No Use In Cryin’ CD, with Dave Arthur (guitar, banjo, drum, vocals), Pete Cooper (fiddle, viola, mandolin, vocals) and Dan Stewart (banjo, guitar) still rattlin’ that old stovepipe in time-honoured fashion; its latest collection of tunes and songs, however, is drawn almost exclusively from the American traditional old-time repertoire. Rattle On The Stovepipe have a special selling-point in that all three of the trio’s members are intensely versatile as musicians and remain ever-open to the influences and practices of English, Scottish and Irish folk music as well as their deep love for old-time (especially Appalachian) music. Hence the title of this latest record, of course.

It covers a musical territory that will be almost entirely familiar to the enthusiast of old-time music, but this isn’t a bad thing when the performances are as warm and self-evidently full of communicative enjoyment as these. And with erudite yet accessible liner notes gracing the accompanying booklet, the listener who’s less accustomed to the repertoire will find even more to delight in.

The approved recipe of the trio’s previous discs is followed once again, with songs succeeding tunes in more or less equal proportion and moods and tempos sensibly varied throughout the course of the record. And even where the chosen pieces are already well-known, Dave and his accomplices prove themselves more than capable as researchers and assemblers of credible performing versions (Sandy Boys and The Gypsy Girl furnishing prime examples). One disc highlight, Dave’s version of Bill Dalton’s Wife, has its origins in three verses by “people’s poet” Don West (Hedy West’s father), whereas another, Dave’s own composition Young And Venturesome, was inspired by reading accounts of Englishmen who travelled to America and participated in famous historical battles.

As before, Pete and Dave share the vocal leads virtually equally, and their forthright delivery and common intensity of expression is audibly drawn from the same wellspring as the old traditional Appalachian singers (you need only to sample the disc’s title song for a persuasive demonstration). Intensity and conviction is also very apparent in the instrumental selections, out of which I particularly enjoyed the trio’s leisurely but swinging takes on Elk River Blues and the spirited Virginia fiddle tune Santa Anna’s Retreat. Oh, and it’s interesting to hear Dave’s melodeon being brought out of its case to pump along to Shove The Pig’s Foot A Little Further In The Fire! Deliciously revisited here, too, with good purpose, the very song that gave ROTS its trading-name back in 2003 (just prior to the trio's first incarnation).

Old Virginia proves a heartwarming and tremendously enjoyable disc that does exactly what the press handout proclaims – “puts a smile on the face and a skip in the step” – and does it all almost without trying!